Tomorrow 26 January the country will mark 20 years since the National Resistance Movement (NRM) came to power with a show of force at Kololo airstrip the likes of which has not been seen in this country in recent memory.
The government’s critics have been quick to denounce the occasion as scare tactics ahead of landmark elections next month.
The NRM lists as its major contribution to Uganda’s history the return of the rule of law to most parts of Uganda and the resuscitation of the economy. The progress it has made in achieving either goal is debatable but it would be a hard boiled cynic who believes nothing good has come from the NRM tenure.
I list the greatest contribution of the NRM as raising the expectations of Ugandans of their government and their greatest failure, an inability to curb corruption and by extension a failure to check the marauding Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda.
In December with the arrest of opposition leader Kizza Besigye critics were tripping over themselves to make the government responsible for the death of the two people during the riots in Kampala.
That was always a hard sell once one knew the facts. One of the fatalities was shot dead by a security guard as he tried to loot and the other died when he fell off a motorcycle as the rider tried to avoid the riots.
With no deaths to capitalize on critics weighed in on the high court seige by the “black mambas” and other actions that pointed to a curtailing of Besigye’s freedoms.
In that snapshot of events I see the government’s greatest achievement. That by claiming to respect the rule of law we do not judge this government on extrajudicial killings but on its infringements on such intangibles as freedoms of association, speech and independence of the judiciary.
This is important because it means that the delivery of good and services are now taken as a given. Ugandans have now grown beyond measuring government as a provider of services and now expect more from the government in terms of its conduct and adherence to the law.
It is also important because it is this elevated bar of expectation that leads to the creation of the institutions that could lead to a functioning democracy.
No government, this one or any other after it, will be held to such a low level of comparison as the NRM was in 1986. In effect the NRM has become a victim of its own success.
It’s greatest failure needs no introduction. The LRA through their attacks over the last 15 odd years have caused the displacement of more than a million people in northern Uganda, depressed the area’s economy to pre-independence levels and caused a hard to heal schism between the north and south.
The NRM argues that a donor imposed defence spending cap through most of the nineties and Sudanese aid to the rebels prevented the disposal of the “northern war.”
It would be difficult to dispute both claims. But perennial stories of corruption in the military only serve to fan suspicions that there are beneficiaries to this war in the military and among the local and national leadership who do not want to see this war go away.
The army is reporting great success against the LRA and the army commander has recently gone on record to say the LRA’s fighting capacity is so degraded as not to pose a threat in future.
However, even if the LRA died tomorrow the economic depression of the area is a potential security threat and fertile ground for future unrest.
The government has set up programs for northern Uganda’s post war reconstruction but reports that even these monies are being pocketed by callous officials have already started sipping through.
So corruption, which some say is already endemic in government, may end up prolonging the suffering of northern Uganda and sowing the seeds of greater unrest that could engulf the whole country and spill over into the region.